Updated: Dec. 15, 8:40 a.m. | Posted: Dec. 14, 1 p.m.
On a Friday morning in Eden Prairie, Minn., the new Asia Mall has just opened for the day and is already busy with people ready to grab some food and do their grocery shopping.
Located in a former Gander Mountain sporting goods store just off Interstate 494, organizers say Asia Mall is the first of its kind in Minnesota. The mall has been in its soft opening phase for only about a month now, but it’s become a popular spot for many members of Minnesota’s Asian communities.
Ramla Tiewala of Edina came out to the mall with her friends that morning to eat at Pho Mai, grab some donuts and explore the mall. Tiewala is Indian and says she usually has to drive to Brooklyn Center to find South Asian grocery stores and restaurants. Since Asia Mall has opened she says finding her favorite Asian foods has become more accessible to her and is excited to keep coming back.
“This is probably the first place that I have been to that has just a variety of food I love. I want to try Hot Pot City. I want to try the [Hometaste] Hong Kong cuisine. I want to try the boba tea upstairs,” Tiewala said. “When I walked in the last time, I saw a lot of Asians being represented at the different restaurants. I know it’s going to be good, because they’re coming back to eat.”
In the mall’s grocery store, Heather Hauck and her son were busy shopping for ingredients to make dinner that night. Hauck and her son are both Korean adoptees. Hauck said seeing her culture represented at Asia Mall helps her feel connected.
“I got really excited about this place because there’s a lot of adoptees here but we don’t really have a lot of restaurants or places to shop that represent specifically Korea,” Hauck noticed. “Just having things written in Korean or seeing Korean products that’s super representative of our cultures is important. Having exposure for him and myself is meaningful.”
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Marshall Nguyen is one of the mall’s lead brokers and advisors. Nguyen says Tiewala’s and Hauck’s experiences are exactly what they hoped to create with Asia Mall — a one-stop shop for visitors to experience a wide variety of Asian foods and cultures.
“A lot of us when we go to family parties what usually happens is we go to one grocery store here, we go to one grocery store there, pick up food at different locations and that always kills a lot of time,” Nguyen said, thinking back to his own family’s experience. “If they need to go to the grocery store, if they need to get their haircut, if the kids are eating in one area, it keeps everybody together.”
Asia Mall has been in high demand not just for visitors, but business owners too.
Michael Bui is the owner of Pho Mai and Mochi Dough at Asia Mall. He heard about plans for the mall a couple of years before construction even began and knew he had to claim his spot. After immigrating from Vietnam as a young child, Bui grew up in Minnesota and has lived in Eden Prairie for over two decades.
Since opening Pho Mai and Mochi Dough at Asia Mall just a few weeks ago, Bui says both restaurants have been busy nonstop.
“We’ve opened restaurants before but we’ve always tried to cater them to the Midwestern taste or the Minnesota taste,” Bui reflected. “With this concept we decided, no, let’s go old school. Let’s go back to creating food that you would get back in Vietnam. That’s why I think people really grabbed it and have come back a lot of times. We’ve had customers come back four times since we’ve opened in three weeks.”
While Bui says his original Pho Mai location in Minneapolis has been doing well, he’s excited to see business continue to boom at the Asia Mall location.
As it prepares for its official grand opening later in the new year, developers are also continuing to invest in new business owners and give them their start at the mall.
Back near the entrance, Julia Cheath is going over the details of her new kiosk for her business, Sweet Treats Catering Co., and can hardly contain her excitement for what’s to come.
“What is the word I’m looking for? Nervous, excited, scared,” Cheath said, elated. “It’s a huge opportunity and I’m beyond honored to have been able to propose the idea to them and they accepted. The people are going to love it.”
Investor Marshall Nguyen says not all of Asia Mall’s vendors are up and running yet. And the mall still has logistics like parking, inventory and construction to solve before its official grand opening. But business owners and community members are all excited to see the mall continue to grow.
Nguyen says the planners also hope to open another grocery store in Burnsville in 2023.
Correction (Dec. 15, 2022): An earlier version of this story misidentified Marshall Nguyen as the lead investor. The story has been updated.